STUTTGART: Schalke's Swiss headcoach Christian Gross reacts during the German first division Bundesliga football match between VfB Stuttgart and Schalke 04 in Stuttgart, southwestern Germany, on Saturday. - AFP

BERLIN: Bundesliga crisis club Schalke sacked almost their entire sporting leadership yesterday, including coach Christian Gross, after an alleged player revolt and a 16th league defeat plunged their nightmare season deeper into crisis. "The decision had become unavoidable after results against Dortmund and Stuttgart," said Schalke chairman Jens Buchta in a statement following Schalke's 5-1 loss to Stuttgart on Saturday, a week after defeat to local rivals Borussia Dortmund. "The team now owe it to the club and the fans to be as successful as possible in the last third of the season."

Coach Gross, sporting director Jochen Schneider and team coordinator Sascha Riether were all relieved of their duties in Sunday's mass clear out. Gross' assistant Rainer Widmayer and fitness coach Werner Leuthard were also fired. The move comes with one-time giants Schalke bottom of the league and nine points adrift of safety, having won just one of their 23 league games this season. Having been in the Champions League two seasons ago, Schalke are now hurtling towards their first relegation since 1988.

Player revolt

Veteran Swiss Gross, 66, had been in the job for only two months, having taken over from interim boss Huub Stevens at the end of December to become Schalke's fourth coach this season. Victory in his second game in charge saw Schalke narrowly avoid equaling a 54-year-old Bundesliga record of 31 games without a win, but Gross was ultimately unable to stop the rot.

The 4-0 victory over Hoffenheim remained his only win in 10 league games in charge, as Schalke remained rooted to the bottom of the table. Reports of a player revolt against Gross' leadership surfaced in the German media last week in the build-up to Saturday's defeat. Team coordinator Riether sought to play down the rumors, saying it was "normal that players are disappointed" but denying there was a "revolution" in the dressing room. Yet yesterday, both Gross and Riether were shown the door as Schalke made one last desperate bid to save their season.

The club have already begun to rebuild for the second division, handing over squad planning duties to loan director Mike Bueskens and youth director Peter Knaebel. Two weeks ago, they announced that sporting director Schneider would leave at the end of the season, a decision which has now been brought forward. Knaebel will now take on "overall responsibility", with support from Bueskens, Norbert Elgert and Gerald Asamoah, the club said. A replacement for Gross as head coach is yet to be announced.

Leipzig's fightback

Elsewhere, a last-gasp Alexander Sorloth goal sealed RB Leipzig's dramatic 3-2 comeback win at home to Borussia Moenchengladbach on Saturday and kept them in the thick of the Bundesliga title race. Leipzig fought back with second-half goals by Christopher Nkunku and Yussuf Poulsen before Sorloth's winning header in the 93rd minute after Gladbach had led 2-0 at half-time.

"We'll try everything to keep the Bundesliga exciting," said Leipzig coach Julian Nagelsmann. "We have to keep the momentum. It was an extremely important victory in terms of the table. We didn't look good when we conceded the goals, but were incredibly strong in the second half." The victory keeps second-placed Leipzig two points behind leaders Bayern Munich, who earlier romped to a 5-1 home win over Cologne. Gladbach were in complete control at half-time after Jonas Hofmann netted an early penalty and Marcus Thuram used his shoulder to guide the ball into the net from a Breel Embolo header.

However, Sorloth came off the bench and inspired the second-half fight back. The former Crystal Palace striker had a goal disallowed for handball before setting up Nkunku, who fired home Leipzig's first goal on 57 minutes. Poulsen smashed home the equalizer on 66 minutes. Leipzig had all the momentum and peppered the Gladbach goal before Sorloth's winning header deep into added time.

Goretzka shines

Earlier, Bayern bounced back after taking just a point in their previous two league games as midfielder Leon Goretzka created three goals in their rout of Cologne. Eric Maxim Choupo-Moting headed Bayern into an early lead before Robert Lewandowski, the league's top scorer, struck twice to increase his league tally to 28 goals this season.

Serge Gnabry came off the bench to claim two late goals behind closed doors at the Allianz Arena on his first appearance since tearing a thigh muscle in Bayern's Club World Cup final win in Qatar. Coach Hansi Flick made just one change - Choupo-Moting for Kingsley Coman - from the side which beat Lazio 4-1 in the Champions League on Tuesday.

Bayern quickly built a 2-0 lead through Choupo-Moting and Lewandowski with Goretzka setting up both goals. Cologne midfielder Ellyes Skhiri chipped Manuel Neuer four minutes after the break to pull a goal back. With just over 25 minutes left, Flick settled nerves by bringing on Gnabry and Thomas Mueller, who made his first appearance a fortnight after testing positive for COVID-19. Mueller's pass split the Cologne defense and found Lewandowski who restored the two-goal cushion on 65 minutes.

Cologne midfielder Dominick Drexler hit the post before Gnabry made it 4-1 by converting a cross, then claimed his second just before the final whistle after an excellent pass from Goretzka. Wolfsburg remain third, seven points behind Bayern, after their 2-0 home win over Hertha Berlin, whose defender Lukas Kluenter turned the ball into his own net before Maxence Lacroix scored the hosts' second.

Wolfsburg defender Marin Pongracic was sent off in added time for a second booking. England winger Jadon Sancho converted a penalty and Brazil midfielder Reinier scored his first goal for the club as Dortmund stayed fifth with a 3-0 home win over Arminia Bielefeld. - AFP